I used to think that identifying myself as a traveler meant having to explore some far-flung, foreign destination. A journey couldn’t be considered real travel unless it involved eating an exotic meal made from unrecognizable animal parts, being lost in a city where I didn’t speak the language, or taking a ride in the middle of nowhere on a bus that was nearly falling apart at the seams. Anybody could go on vacation; but travel required a set of reality-bending, bone-jarring, potentially life-altering circumstances.
That was years ago. More recently, three personal experiences have changed the nature of the way I think about travel: a serious bout of altitude sickness in the High Sierras, buying a house, and the birth of my niece and nephew. The altitude sickness made me more careful about pushing myself too far, too fast; mortgage payments grounded me—literally—and kept my focus on creating a home; best of all, watching my niece and nephew grow up has opened me to an array of wonders that I could never find on the road.
Even so, it’s no easy task to suppress the itch to move. As the son of a Navy man, shifting places frequently has long been part of my DNA. Settling into a home, though, required new ways of feeding that wanderlust. I used to dismiss the notion of a “staycation”—I hate that moniker and it didn’t fit my previous definition of authentic travel—but I’ve since come to embrace the idea of seeking out adventures close to home. At the core of being a traveler, after all, isn’t so much the distance one covers but the discoveries one makes along the way.
For me, moving north of San Francisco Bay led to forays into west Marin and especially into Wine Country, where I’ve enjoyed the natural beauty, food, and wines of Napa and Sonoma Valleys, places I hadn’t visited much when I lived in the City. I’ve tempered the traveler’s restlessness by widening my senses and skills. I taught myself to freestyle swim, deciding that another stroke in my repertoire would be useful and potentially life-saving. (I learned the hard way that swimming breast-stroke against the current in the Nile River is pretty much useless). And in the process of filling my house with furniture, I found a new passion for interior design. Not surprisingly, travel vignettes figure prominently in my home’s decor. One bedroom wall, in fact, features a collection of photographs arranged into a kind of “dream board” representing a few of my hoped-for travel experiences—walking amid the temples of Angkor Wat, sharing an authentic home-cooked meal in Kerala, India, savoring a plate of spaghetti alla bottarga in Sardinia. Machu Picchu.
I’m in the midst of selling that house now, ready to exchange the security of a permanent abode for a more flexible, free existence. In doing so, I’ve upped my chances of reaching those dreamed-about destinations. But whether or not I get there, whether life circumstances coalesce to propel me halfway around the world or keep me close to home, I know there are ways of satisfying the wandering spirit. Near or far, I’ll continue seeking out the promise of something or someplace new. Here’s to the journeys ahead.